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Melzak, S. (1992). Secrecy, Privacy, Survival, Repressive Regimes, and Growing Up. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, 15(3):205-224.

(1992). Bulletin of the Anna Freud Centre, 15(3):205-224

Secrecy, Privacy, Survival, Repressive Regimes, and Growing Up

Sheila Melzak

In this paper I will describe my work as a child psychotherapist with children, young people and families who have experienced and survived organized violence. I work for a charity called the Medical Foundation for the Care and Treatment of Victims of Torture. This relatively new organization, which developed out of the Amnesty Medical Group, was started in 1985 by the present director, Helen Bamber. It has expanded rapidly in the last three years. A multidisciplinary team, of a few paid and a large number of volunteer staff, are learning to work together. Some workers have clinical training and some have considerable experience of working with refugees and campaigning for the rights of refugees. We are very much in the early stages of our development as an organization. Most of the families we work with have at least one family-member who has been tortured.

It is impossible to think effectively about the emotional problems of refugee children and to be effective as a psychotherapist while focusing exclusively on the internal world of the child. It is necessary to try to avoid making assumptions about the external world and the links between the external and the internal world of the child during development. War, organized violence and repression will have different meanings for different individuals and will create the development of both impressive coping mechanisms and serious mental-health problems.

Refugee families who have lived and struggled with life in a violent divisive society, usually demonstrate an enormous capacity to work through the effects of trauma and loss, to deal with the problems of exile, and to understand and to criticize actively repression in societies.

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